Kingsmill, LPGA extend partnership through 2020

Basking in a May tournament that drew large galleries and produced another marquee leaderboard, the Kingsmill Championship has signed a three-year extension with the LPGA Tour.

The parties announced the agreement Tuesday, contracting the event with the James City County resort through 2020. Next year’s tournament is set for May 17-20, with 2019 and ’20 planned for similar dates, said John Hilker, Kingsmill’s chief operations officer.

To rave review from its players, the LPGA has staged 13 tournaments on Kingsmill’s River Course. But resort ownership changes and a title-sponsor void created frequent instability and one sabbatical, the latter in 2010 and ’11.

Escalante Golf, which purchased Kingsmill early this year and is accustomed to professional tournaments at its other properties, prioritized a multiyear extension, and the tournament’s senior staff met with Commissioner Michael Whan and other LPGA officials during May’s event.

“We got on the ground and realized the importance of this (tournament) right away, Hilker said.

Escalante owns the Golf Club of Houston, site of the PGA Tour’s Shell Houston Open. The WinCo Foods Portland Open, a Web.com Tour event for aspiring PGA Tour players, is staged at Escalante’s Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in Oregon, which has also hosted two U.S. Women’s Opens.

“We are thrilled Kingsmill Resort has extended our long-term partnership as it ensures that we will continue the rich tradition of showcasing the best golfers in the world, at one of the very best resorts in the world,” Whan said in a statement. “Everything at Kingsmill is first-class, from the beautiful resort, to the championship River Course, to the incredible volunteers, to the way they treat players and fans alike.”

The Kingsmill Championship still lacks an outside title sponsor, leaving Escalante to absorb costs such as the $1.3 million purse, the LPGA Tour’s second-lowest. Once $2.2 million, Kingsmill’s purse will remain as is unless an outside sponsor is found, Hilker said.

“The LPGA Tour is in search of a title sponsor,” he said. “We want to make sure we have a say in who that may be. … We kind of like being in charge of the tournament, but it comes at a pretty good cost. While we like having a four-day commercial (during the Golf Channel’s tournament telecasts), we also understand it might play better for all if we had a partner.”

Favored by ideal weather, this year’s tournament was among Kingsmill’s best. Playing before crowds rarely seen at the resort for the LPGA — Kingsmill hosted the PGA Tour for 22 years — champion Lexi Thompson shot a 20-under-par aggregate, besting Annika Sorenstam’s 2008 tournament record by a shot.

Escalante is Kingsmill’s first golf-centric owner, and that focus was evident to LPGA competitors as they played the River Course in May.

“It feels like a step above everything else that we play,” five-time Tour winner Angela Stanford said then. “It’s about as close to a major (championship) as we’re going to get that’s not a major.”

Tuesday’s news was especially gratifying to veteran Kingsmill Championship officials such as tournament director Matthew Schulze and Wayne Nooe, the resort vice president who oversees golf.

“Kingsmill was built on the back of golf,” Nooe said, “dating back to the PGA Tour. And just being able to continue this tournament for another three years, and hopefully further, is great news, especially with this year’s event being so good.”

Thompson’s May victory continued Kingsmill’s run of high-profile champions. Beyond Sorenstam, arguably the Tour’s all-time best, past winners include Karrie Webb, Se Ri Pak, Cristie Kerr and Suzann Pettersen.

“I’m excited to hear that the LPGA will continue to have the Kingsmill Championship,” Thompson said in a statement. “It’s always been one of my favorite stops on Tour with some of the best fans. I can’t wait to return to the Kingsmill Resort next year to defend my title.”

Teel can be reached by phone at 757-247-4636 or by email at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP.

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